I have many favorite poems, but none of them are my own. I love the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Yeats.
I've written three children's books, all poetry, one a poem, two many. I never love them, but they always come from love. Usually I feel numb after the process. I've done my best, wonder what will others think. My first book, Last Night I Dreamed A Circus, was my life story, and intended to be everyone's story, and was reviewed (generally ) well. My second, Good Dog, contained many poems about many dogs. It was a painful process. I tried to quit at one point, then went back and dragged myself through the revision process. I thought I'd done a bad job, but the book was reviewed (generally) well.
My third book, about the animals of Farm Sanctuary titled Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary is also a collection of poems. I wanted to tell the stories of the beautiful animal souls inhabiting the New York and California shelters of this national organization which provides advocacy and shelter for farm animals. When I was diagnosed with cancer before the book had been sold to a publisher, it became even more important to me to try to get the book out into the world. I worked on it between chemotherapy and surgery. I visited the farm, I listened to others' stories, I read, I observed. I dipped inside my soul and looked for mirrors to these creatures who, like God, were beyond our understanding. I wrote. I tried to capture their peace and beauty and want of life. Their joy, their gratefulnesss, their spirit. In some cases I had to cut and edit poems dramatically to accommodate the stunning artwork that the book's illustrator had produced from photographs of the animals, and did my best to channel their bright souls in minimal words. I tried. As with my other two books I was left not knowing if the poems were successful. I had only tried my best, as with Last Night I Dreamed a Circus and with Good Dog. All I wanted was to do justice to this beautiful organization and its animal residents. Had I succeeded?
The joy I felt after receiving kudos in the form of appearance requests from two major bookstores was somewhat crushed when, late, one night, I searched for early trade reviews online. One had been posted at the Publishers Weekly website. I held my breath and clicked through to the unstarred assessment. My mind reeled at the criticisms. Not only was the review unfavorable in regards to my writing, but it criticized me for using cliche versions of the animals I was trying so hard to depict as individuals. I knew my pensive donkey was not a cliche, and that my pig that thought of itself as a flower was not typical, but I felt damaged... not so much by the criticism... but by the fact that someone might think that that was what was inside my soul... these cliches... this misunderstanding of farm animals... which was the toxicity I was working so hard to eradicate. My invisible executioner writes, "Instead, the poems feel like they’re all cut from the same dreamy, earnest cloth." But my dreamy and earnest cloth, in truth is the place where the peaceful spirit of Farm Sanctuary communes with my soul. This is what I was trying to share with the reader. This is what poetry is. The communion of souls. The subject, the reader, the writer. We share a space, and I wanted that space to be the peaceful place I found at Farm Sanctuary, not the comedy of dogs in the park found in Good Dog, not the sweeping dream of my first book. Peace is the space of Farm Sanctuary, as I shared in the book's note about the organization, which goes unmentioned in the review. I don't want to feel sour in the face of a bad review. But crushed, I am, that the one book that meant the most to me does not receive the favorable reviews that my others did. Are my poems failures? Did I take a wrong turn? Is my voice skewed? My soul twisted? My words? Cliches?
I do not want to take swipes at my reviewer, as the bitter, poorly reviewed author that I suppose I am. But I do want to make one correction. My executioner writes, "...chicks are giddy...." Chicks? I didn't write about chicks in my book. Did you mean... the ducklings?
Causes Maya Gottfried Supports
Farm Sanctuary, PINNACLE, Our Hen House, Animals Asia, A.S.P.C.A., Fountain House, Vote Humane